Remember back in the day when the “grown-ups” and authority figures kept saying that this rock ’n’ roll thing would die out one of these days? Well, those people are all dead, and rock ’n’ roll remains. The thing is, rock is no longer exactly music that is by and for the young. Rock is fucking old and rock fans, well, they’re not looking so sexy and surly these days, either. C’est la vie and what you gonna do?
As we know, rock bands are, more often than not, lasting entities. And if a band of olde has broken up, the question is not if the band is gonna get back together, but when. Those at the top of the heap reunite for the money – even though they probably hate each others’ fucking guts. Moderately successful bands reunite for the moderate money – and to relive the moderate glories that moderately successful bands experience. And on the local level (at the bottom of the heap), bands just reunite for the, ahem, glory – the glory of playing shitty dives for sparse to nonexistent crowds. Again, c’est la vie. There’s no fool like an old fool (and, baby, I’m one too).
And then there’s Iron Maiden. The Maiden never broke up and for the most part retained the same members of its classic lineup for the entirety of an around 35 year reign. And reign Maiden did – and does. The band pretty much defined heavy metal.
Sure, there were a few years in the mid-90s when singer Bruce Dickinson stepped out of the picture. But Dickinson’s been back for over 15 years and whatever “creative differences” the band may have had have long been resolved. Dickinson proved irreplaceable. He is the definitive heavy metal singer and Maiden is the quintessential heavy metal band, period.
This leads us to the existential question that immortal, top-of-the-heap acts like Maiden invariably ask themselves – provided they have enough brain cells left, that is. (The members of Iron Maiden, or at least Dickinson and bassist extraordinaire Steve Harris, seem to have more than enough marbles intact to ponder the imponderable in this way.) And the question is (drumroll, please): why bother making new music? After all, huge bands like Maiden and the Stones and U2 make the real money by touring. These guys are surely rich as hell. And they can get even richer the easy way – by delivering a greatest hits package by rote in concert for the rest of their days.
So why does Iron Maiden record new material? Because they can. And why does Iron Maiden choose to record a (!) double album over 90 minutes long? Because they want to. Apparently a side effect of these guys’ creative Viagra is priapism. But hey, length, girth and stamina are sought after attributes, right?
Yes, The Book of Souls is a long fucking album – perhaps too much to digest in one sitting. And sure, there’s some self-indulgence going on here – a lot of it, in fact. But Maiden’s hardcore fans, and there are a lot of them, will lap this stuff up. And furthermore, why should these guys have to self-edit when they do what they do so well?
What we have here is 11 songs, all of them epics, all chock full of the soaring vocals, searing guitars and (most of the time) galloping beats that we expect. And as long and indulgent as the songs are, Maiden has still managed to sideline the prog tendencies that weighed down their last album, the (at 76 minutes long) comparably short The Final Frontier. The Book of Souls is a cornucopia of metal delivered by masters of the craft. It is what it is, because it can be. And as mere mortals, ours is not to question why.
The Book of Souls